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Rebuilding Team Culture A Top Priority For Penn State Men’s Hockey

Penn State men’s hockey closed a disappointing season with a heartbreaking loss to top-seeded Minnesota in the Big Ten Tournament. Now, as he picks up the pieces, head coach Guy Gadowsky is focusing on bridging the gap to build the team’s culture back near where it was before the pandemic.

The head coach believes the team is able to play its best hockey when it matters most, like its upset over Ohio State in the Big Ten Tournament, due to the culture that the team has built off the ice. Even though it seems that the team’s morale took a huge hit from the pandemic, Gadowsky says he’s happy with the progress so far.

“We’re really proud of the steps the team took in terms of a culture aspect, and they worked really hard,” Gadowsky said. “Paul [DeNaples and the leadership group] deserve a ton of credit for that. The new players also understood the importance of it…But you don’t ever say ‘OK, it’s done.'”

When talking about how a team culture manifests itself on the ice, Gadowsky said he thinks that the standards the team sets both individually and for each other within the locker room transfers to its chemistry on the ice. Even though Gadowsky is optimistic about the culture improving through the offseason, he also knows that it’s not a guarantee. In fact, he tells his players it could change for the worse if they don’t step up.

“You recognize that we have come a long way, but it can leave in a hurry, too,” he said this week. “The players understand that, and now, it’s a matter of whether they continue the building rather than just staying still. You’re improving, or you’re going the other way.”

However, as the culture aims to continuously improve, Penn State will take a big hit with the loss of Adam Pilewicz, who’s set to move on from the program after using up his remaining eligibility.

“He’s the first player, I think, that we’ve ever had win the [Team Culture Award] twice, and for very good reason,” Gadowsky said. “That’s a landmine we have to watch because he was so good, and I do hope other players pick up that slack.”

As leaders like Pilewicz and Clayton Phillips leave the team, Gadowsky thinks the pressure will be specifically seen on the rising juniors in the program. The duo’s departure opens up an opportunity for Jimmy Dowd Jr. to rise to the occasion and become a true leader on the team.

“I’m very optimistic about him specifically,” Gadowsky said. “He’s not the only one, but that class…they’re the examples next year. So, I think there’s going to be a lot of pressure on them for the first time, culturally.”

Gadowsky elaborated more on how the pandemic affected him, in addition to the team’s culture, which is something he hasn’t publicly mentioned all season. COVID-19 restrictions hampered some efforts to bond as a team or find success off of the ice.

“Last year was a lot of doubting,” he said. “I didn’t enjoy myself. I wasn’t a part of the culture. That year was the first time in that I’ve [felt like I’ve] gone to work in 25 years…Even the things that you did that you thought were little really add up, and when you don’t get to do them, you see the negative results.”

Now that the season is over, Gadowsky went on to say that despite Penn State’s trophy case didn’t grow, the 2021-22 campaign was a good learning experience for him as a coach. He explained that seeing those negative results from his actions reinforced that what he did before the pandemic was instrumental in building the team’s culture from within

DeNaples, the team captain, says Penn State must stay sharp throughout the offseason to ensure the Nittany Lions don’t lose any progress they’ve made toward rebuilding that sought-after culture.

“We still maintain the team culture and friendship off the ice, and that’s the best thing we can do to prepare for next year,” DeNaples said.

In terms of how the team culture translates on the ice, the returning captain said it comes down to trust.

“It’s an accountability, and that’s what translates,” he said. “Off the ice, the guys are doing the right things and coming together, so I have trust that whatever players [are on the ice] I can trust off the ice to not mess up, and they’re going to do the same thing on the ice.”

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About the Author

Caitlin Burns

Caitlin is a senior majoring in english. She watches "Dance Moms" from the beginning three times a year and thinks she's a barista because she can make one drink from Starbucks. She can usually be found taking a nap or being unreasonably angry at small inconveniences. You can contact her at [email protected].

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